The Orioles suddenly have an offense that is clubbing the ball, a pitching staff that is consistently limiting the opposition and a fan base that is packing the stadium, hooting and hollering throughout the game.
After a 10-3 drilling of the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday afternoon, these first-place Orioles are partying like it's 1979. Or at least their fans are.
“Nothing is given. Every day is another challenge,” Orioles manager and self-imposed reality-checker Buck Showalter said. “I know it's cliched about day-to-day; it's pitch-to-pitch. It's, ‘What challenge is going to be around the corner?'”
The Orioles had another stout challenge Saturday, they answered it resoundingly. Before a national TV audience and a rowdy, announced Camden Yards crowd of 40,894 — many wearing giveaway cowboy hats in honor of late superfan William “Wild Bill” Hagy — the Orioles again pounded the temporarily hapless Cardinals, capturing the series' first two games by a combined score of 22-5.
The tone for the Orioles' latest victory, their 15th in 22 games since the All-Star break, was paced by a 28-year-old rookie catcher who wasn't on the 40-man roster this winter and could have been grabbed by any team.
Caleb Joseph considered giving up baseball before he was offered an invitation to spring training this year. On Saturday, after a second-inning clout just over the left-field wall, he had homered in his fifth straight game, setting the franchise record for a catcher. As he touched home plate, Joseph clapped his hands. He fist-pumped the air and screamed as he headed into the dugout.
“It's just a big whirlwind of emotions,” said Joseph, who has homered five times in a span of 15 plate appearances in the last week. “You set a record, and maybe seven, eight months ago, I was thinking about hanging it up. Every day in the big leagues is such a blessing, and especially to be on this team, with this group of guys, and to be in first place — it's just a great feeling.”
Joseph is one of the club's funniest and more outgoing players. But as a rookie, he has tried to keep a low profile, especially on the field. He just couldn't contain his excitement after homering again.
“Winning's fun. Winning is the cure to everything,” Joseph said. “It's just kind of one of those things where it just kind of came out. I'll try and keep it low-key next time.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked afterward about Joseph's streak of games with a home run. In club history, only Reggie Jackson (1976) and Chris Davis (2012) have homered in six straight.
“I'm not talking about it,” Showalter said with a hint of a smile. “I know he is.”
The first-place Orioles (67-49) have won seven straight series and are a season-high 18 games over .500 while moving a season-best six games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees in the American League East.
This team hasn't won a division crown in 17 years — the Orioles haven't had a six-game lead since Sept. 15, 1997 — and the fans at Camden Yards certainly seem ready for it.
In the eighth inning, 1983 World Series Most Valuable Player and MASN broadcaster Rick Dempsey began waving his Hagy cowboy hat to stir up the crowd, then broke into two, earsplitting chants of “O-R-I-O-L-E-S.” It was just another throwback to the glory days on a weekend in which the franchise was celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Saturday's bludgeoning didn't have any of the three-run homers coveted by Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, but it did include three two-run long balls. The Orioles' 16-hit attack was enough for enigmatic starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who was pitching in his first big league game since July 5.
“At first, I was a little bit out of control. But the guys put a lot of runs on the scoreboard, so that made me definitely feel a little more comfortable out there,” said Jimenez (4-8). “And then I just attacked the strike zone.”
After spending nearly a month on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle, the 30-year-old right-hander walked two of the first three batters he faced. Jimenez and the Orioles fell behind 1-0 in the first when Jhonny Peralta doubled to left. The Cardinals nearly scored twice on the play, but Jonathan Schoop's relay home cut down Matt Holliday at the plate for the final out of the inning. The umpires reviewed whether Joseph had blocked the plate illegally, but after a crew chief review, the ruling stood.
Inexplicably, the Cardinals weren't patient against Jimenez after the first. They scored just twice more — on a solo homer by Jon Jay in the second and Jay's sacrifice fly in the fourth. Jimenez threw six innings, giving up three runs on six hits and three walks, just one after the first. Despite his long layoff, Jimenez still leads the AL with 63 walks. It was Jimenez's first win since June 30, the last time he started at Camden Yards.
“To be off for a while and guys have been pitching well, he wanted to give us a chance to win,” Showalter said. “I hope it's the start of a good period of pitching like he's capable of. He was competitive and hopefully he can build on it.”
Jimenez's return to the rotation certainly was eased by an offense that gave him a 5-2 lead in the third. And the Orioles just kept piling on.
After homering six times Friday night, the Orioles added three more Saturday against St. Louis right-hander John Lackey. They had eight players hit nine homers in a 15-inning period.
Eight of the nine defensive positions, including designated hitter, homered in that span, as well as seven of the nine spots in the batting order. Right fielder Nick Markakis was the only Oriole to start both games and not homer. First baseman Chris Davis was the only Oriole starter without a hit Saturday; Davis and Markakis were the only ones without multiple hits Saturday.
“We were fortunate to catch a couple pitchers not on top of their game,” Showalter said. “You've got to make ‘em pay.”
Nelson Cruz homered in the third and Delmon Young added one in the fifth against Lackey, who was making his second start with the Cardinals since being traded from the Boston Red Sox on July 31. Cruz, who hadn't gone deep since July 25, now has 30 homers and 20 doubles, the 18th time an Oriole has done that in modern franchise history. He is the 19th Oriole to hit 30 homers in a season.
Lackey (1-1 in St. Louis, 12-8 overall) lasted just five innings, allowing a season-high nine runs on a season-worst 13 hits and two walks. He had given up just seven runs in his previous four starts combined.
The Orioles are 3-5 all time against the Cardinals (61-54) and 9-4 in interleague play this year. They'll go for the sweep Sunday with rookie Kevin Gausman on the mound.
If Joseph is in the starting lineup — he didn't start twice in the past week, once because of a family medical situation — he'll be in a position to make history.
“I don't know if I've ever hit five in a row before. I hit quite a few last year [22 at Double-A Bowie], and I know it's in there. And I've known since I've been here that it's in there,” said Joseph, who is one of 15 major league catchers since 1914 to homer in five straight games. “But the most important thing is we won today and we created some more space [in] first place. So that's really the most important thing.”
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